Anglers Launch the Maiden Voyage and Debut Casts…

Alan Charles Star Outdoors Columnist
Friday, April 23, 2021
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Finn Anderson displays a nice first-fish-of-the-season perch.

Submitted Photo/Alan Charles

Catch the right morning, one of those eastern Montana spring mornings, with the meadowlarks singing and the crocuses blooming, a rare day when the wind is calm and the early morning sunlight is already warm and welcoming, and you will find some eager anglers ready to launch their boats or make those first casts of the year.

Just visiting with some of those fishermen helps identify the vast array of angling opportunities available us here in eastern Montana. John was headed out to check his setlines, bragging about just how good the fishing was for chunky channel catfish. Todd thought it was about time to grab his flyrod and head down to the Tongue River to catch some smallmouth bass. Dan promised to get me those white flies he ties for catching crappies.

Monty and I hit the Yellowstone on one of those warm spring days, actually a great day with temperatures in the mid-seventies and NO WIND! In four hours, we caught twenty sauger and two goldeyes, one of the best days either of us could remember on the river.

We kept a couple of fish for supper, and released the rest, and I have to tell you, there may be no better way to celebrate a new fishing season than to eat fresh fried cold water sauger, accompanied by a salad and a glass of crisp chilled white wine.

Last week, I drove six-and-a-half hours to Helena, and hiked down through the jagged rocks of rip-rap at Canyon Ferry Dam, buffeted by winds gusting to forty knots or more. I stood on the same rock I have stood on for nearly thirty-five years, and cast a small, brown-and-white, marabou-feathered jig into the deep water. I waited until the line lay flat, indicating it had sunk clear to the bottom. Then, I started retrieving my line, slowly, jigging it high with the rod tip, then following it down as it fell, and boom, second cast, I had a hit.

As I fought the big rainbow, I looked up at the Big Belt Mountains to the east, noting that the two big peaks called The Sisters were wearing a wrap of white lace snow, remembering all the years I have done this, all the new seasons I have caught these big trout for the smoker.

Then, Ted and I hit the river, casting jigs for walleyes and perch, and before you knew it, we were hooked up, first him, landing a walleye that stretched the tape toward 28”, then me, another one, just a bit smaller, both of us releasing those fish, but then, catching more, several more, smaller, just the right size for the skillet, which we kept, filleted, and ate later that night.

Back home, the next week, I visited with a fellow in the Albertson’s parking lot who had a little boat trailered behind his truck. He had caught ice-out pike and yellow perch, noting that he had been the only angler on the lake, and how, for a maiden voyage, it had been a great day.

Dean, on the other hand, reported that his maiden voyage had been more of a normal trip, with the water pump not working, and having to pull the boat and tinker with things to get everything working right. But he and the wife had fun, he reported, always fun on the river.

That is my typical maiden voyage, one that reminds me of all the things I was going to do late last year, including fix the fish-finder, tighten the boat seat screws, clean out the live-well pump, secure the bimini top brackets, purchase and install new rodholders, and the list goes on.

And yet, there is no time like this time of year, a new season, and all those opportunities, to fish for different kinds of fish, in different places, just waiting for us to show up and give it a try. No matter whether it is launching a boat on a river or lake, or sitting somewhere on a bank, casting a line and waiting to see what bites can be an amazing and soul-settling experience.

A new season… a time of hope… what more could we ask for, especially after this past year of fear and anxiety. Good luck, to all of you. I hope to see you out there.

(Alan Charles is a local outdoors columnist.)